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International relations

Taiwan paves way for US trade deal by easing pork and beef imports

Taipei backs off health concerns for deal with its most important supporter

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says her government will begin allowing imports of U.S. pork containing the additive ractopamine, which enhances leanness.   © Reuters

TAIPEI (Reuters) -- Taiwan paved the way for an eventual free trade deal with the United States on Friday by announcing an easing of restrictions on the import of U.S. beef and pork, as the island looks to boost ties with Washington at a time of tensions with China.

Taiwan has long sought a free trade agreement with the United States, its most important supporter on the international stage, but Washington has complained about barriers to access for U.S. pork and beef. Taiwan said that was for health grounds, especially with concerns over mad cow disease and additives.

Speaking at the presidential office in Taipei, President Tsai Ing-wen said her government planned to allow the import of U.S. pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness, and allow in U.S. beef older than 30 months old.

"The decision is in line with the country's overall interests and the goals of the nation's strategic development. It's also a decision that could boost Taiwan-U.S. ties," she said.

"If we can take one crucial step forward on the issue of U.S. pork and beef, it will be an important start for Taiwan-U.S. economic cooperation at all fronts."

While it may take a while to reach a bilateral trade agreement with the United States, Tsai said she had a positive attitude on the issue.

The United States is an "extremely important" trade partner for Taiwan, and the decision has nothing to do with the upcoming U.S. presidential election, she added.

Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung said the eased pork and beef rules were expected to come into effect on Jan. 1.

Taiwan-U.S. trade last year was worth $85.5 billion, with the United States running a $23.1 billion deficit. Taiwan was the United States' 14th biggest export market in 2019.

The United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing as sovereign Chinese territory. China has been stepping up its military activities near Taiwan.

Export-dependent, tech powerhouse Taiwan has also been pushing for an investment agreement with the European Union.

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